A few blocks north of the Bridgeport neighborhood, Halsted Street crosses the South Branch of the Chicago River. Some people used to call this the Red Bridge, not for the color of the bridge, but for the blood that was shed here when rioters and police met in an infamous series of battles.
In July 1877, a national rail strike, inspired by cuts in rail workers’ wages, turned ugly in several cities. Mobs marching in St. Louis and San Francisco made headlines in the Chicago Tribune.
In Chicago on July 25, a crowd of workingmen marched along a route that moved through the rail yards and stockyards, picking up sympathetic workers and supporters along the way.
The group headed north up Halsted Street toward the viaduct at the Chicago River, where they were met not only by the police, but also by the U.S. Army’s Second Regiment. The violence that ensued became known as the Battle of the Viaduct.
It took the full force of the police, the infantry, and the cavalry to put down the angry mob. Uncounted numbers of rioters – and some innocent bystanders – were injured (uncounted, in part, because local women took the injured into their homes and hid them).
At least eighteen rioters were killed, as well as one Chicago policeman.
The Tribune’s bias against the workers, which would later play a role in Haymarket Affair, is evident as the newspaper labeled the marchers, many of them Irish, as “people of poor classes,” “savages,” “brutes,” and “greasy rioters” – and even describes the women as “amazons” and children as “waifs.”
As for justice, the Tribune reporter says of the people clubbed by police: “Some who didn’t move fast enough, or who persisted in going south, were knocked down with clubs and were badly bruised. These men who were clubbed [by police] were doing nothing, but they deserved what they got, since their place was at home, and not attempting to swell a crowd.”
On their way to the battle, the marchers likely passed the former Stearns Quarry, a few blocks south of the Halsted Street Bridge. The quarry was in operation from the late 1830s until 1970; after that, the site was used as a landfill for clean construction debris.
In 2009, after a $10 million remediation and renovation, the site re-opened as Palmisano Park – an innovative, 27-acre green space with a stocked fishing pond 40 feet below street level, plus hiking on a hill that owes its origins to the aforementioned construction debris – right in the middle of Bridgeport.
It is certainly one of the more unusual properties in the Chicago Park District portfolio. The park is named for the late Henry Palmisano, whose family owns sports and shop at the east end of Bridgeport.